Study disproves the Bible's claim that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out

James Marshall
July 28, 2017

Marc Haber, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England and lead author on the study, said that compared with other Bronze Age civilizations, not much is known about the Canaanites.

"The Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations", the researchers wrote.

They then compared this to 99 modern Lebanese people and discovered they had inherited about 90 per cent of their genetic ancestry from their ancient forebears.

It seems they didn't destroy them all, though.

However, according to the new paper published on Thursday in the American Journal of Human Genetics, the Canaanites survived, and their descendants live in Lebanon. "We have always had a hard past. but we have a shared heritage we have to preserve", excavation director Claude Doumet-Serhal said.

Also known as the Phoenicians, the Canaanites proved to be great seafaring traders and established colonies across the Mediterranean.

Researchers sequenced whole genomes from five Canaanites skeletons found in Sidon, Lebanon.

As reported in Science, Greek legend has it that the Canaanites originally came from the East. Researchers even found some ancient gene variations that suggested the Canaanites probably had similar coloration in skin, eyes and hair as Lebanese people do today. The Bible represents Canaanites as the enemies of early Israelites, who eventually conquered their territory and exterminated them.

Instead it's believed their roots lie further back with Neolithic people who settled the region about 10,000 years ago. In Deuteronomy 20:16, the Israelites are commanded by God to completely wipe them out. Despite the migrations, the researchers identified significant genetic continuity in the region since at least the Bronze Age - 3,300 to 1,200 years ago for the Canaanites - which is supported by the archaeological record.

"But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded". According to the authors, coastal cities such as Sidon and Tyre "show continuity of occupation until the present day".

Scientists have extracted DNA from the remains of five people found in the former Canaanite city of Sidon dating from around 3,700 years ago and sequenced their genome. It was surprising, Haber and Tyler-Smith said, to find such continuity in the Canaanite line, given all of the conquests and expansions into the Middle East from outside groups since the Bronze Age.

He added that it had been a "pleasant surprise" to be able to extract and analyse DNA from human remains that were almost 4,000 years old, particularly as they were found in a hot environment.

Geneticists are yet to conduct a DNA study on an ancient Israelite.

"Genetic studies using ancient DNA can expand our understanding of history, and answer questions about the likely origins and descendants of enigmatic populations like the Canaanites, who left few written records themselves", said Dr. Chris Tyler-Smith, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Genomic changes occurred between 6,600 and 3,550 years ago - with input from migrants from the east genetically related to Copper Age Iranians - and again between 3,750 and 2,170 years ago with the introduction of Eurasian ancestry. All of those came from the petrous part of the temporal bone, which is the tough part of the skull behind the ear, from five different individuals.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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